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Ovechkin Wins Round One; Luongo Can’t Carry Weight Himself

May 3, 2009 by Big Tony · Leave a Comment 

ovechkin scores 300x195 Ovechkin Wins Round One; Luongo Cant Carry Weight Himself
Round 1 of Crosby versus Ovechkin goes to Ovie as the Washington Capitals outlasted the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 Saturday at Verizon Center. Based on the flow of the game this should be a pretty long series that goes back and forth. The difference in the game (aside from an incredible save by Simeon Varlamov) was Washington’s stellar power play outdueling a “headscratchingly” bad power play for the Pittsburgh Penguins. If the Penguins want to win the series they have to get their power play to at least be mediocre. Right now they have an enormous amount of talent on their power play unit but they are wasting it by setting it up poorly. Set up two power play lines that splits up Malkin and Crosby and better utilizes Kunitz and Guerin so that there is a line with say Crosby and Guerin and another line with Kunitz and Malkin. Splitting up the time certainly can’t hurt nor could making any change to it really because it hasn’t worked. The Penguins are really only one power play goal per game away from being a completely unstoppable team offensively. The Capitals on the other hand just have to keep doing what they’ve been doing. Keep dominating on their power play while playing fairly strong at even strength. Their speed and skill cannot be stopped with the man advantage (let alone a two-man advantage) so as long as they have that going and Varlamov holds up they are going to win the series. Another luxury the Caps have right now is being able to be aggressive without fearing being penalized. It isn’t that the refs aren’t calling penalties on them it’s just that the Penguins are not making Washington pay for their mistakes. Bottom line, if Pittsburgh’s power play gets going they win the series, if it continues the tract it is on now Washington will win no matter what else happens.

luongo yields goal 300x200 Ovechkin Wins Round One; Luongo Cant Carry Weight Himself

Out West, the Chicago Blackhawks made another comeback against the Vancouver Canucks Saturday night erasing Vancouver’s early two goal lead. Only this time the Hawks were able to make the comeback stick and went on to defeat the Canucks 6-3 tying their series at one heading to Chicago. Saturday’s loss was the first for Vancouver in these playoffs and won’t be their last as they are on a collision course with elimination. Sure they have been able to get off to a quick start the first two games—barely hanging on to win game one—but Vancouver relies way too much on Luongo to bail them out on a nightly basis. Relying on Luongo worked well enough in the first series against a more inferior opponent but it will not work against Chicago. Vancouver needs to get a whole lot more from their big guns if they want to survive. If Roberto Luongo has to be Vancouver’s best player for them to win they will be eliminated before the end of this round.

Covering the Points; A Small Step Toward Immense Success

March 23, 2009 by Big Tony · Leave a Comment 

net traffic Covering the Points; A Small Step Toward Immense Success
As playoff time approaches and teams are dissected to find out why one team will be another in a playoff series, or even why one team will make it to the playoffs over another, the dissecting begins. Players and coaches are analyzed under a microscope as the tangibles and intangibles are plugged into a formula that the “experts” concoct in their minds to determine the winners and losers. And there will be many things mentioned about the various teams but one thing I’ve noticed as a major difference between winners and losers is penalty killing. Specifically, it is the covering of the point men—or lack there of—that often times determines the success one team will have over another. Good teams tend to be a bit more aggressive—but not stupid—when on the penalty kill by putting pressure on point men making them break their rhythm. Oftentimes the point players would like to dictate tempo and pace by distributing the puck at their leisure to create scoring chances. As a result, one of the biggest keys to a successful penalty kill is breaking the rhythm of a power play and one great way to do that is to cover point players. Put pressure on the points, make a guy skate around more than he’d like to or take an extra pass when he hadn’t planned to. Sure sometimes that aggressive play can yield a goal for the other team but at least the pressure you put on them forces the team to make some really good plays. Many teams will fall back into somewhat of a shell as their defense collapses into a box formation out in front of the net. This approach allows the power play to take its time to set up very well and also causes an enormous amount of traffic in front of goalies who now have almost NO chance at stopping any pucks fired at them. This conservative “we hope not to lose” approach generally has the oppositely desired effect. Teams are going to score on the power play, it’s no secret; but by putting greater pressure on point players a team force a power play to work harder to score which wear them down in time and also frustrate them to the point where they try to do more than they are capable of which can result in short-handed opportunities. Generally speaking it is a small change but it’s one that can make a world of difference. So the next time you’re watching a game look to see how the penalty killing units work and I am almost certain you’ll notice players not covering the points.

Top-Notch Theodore is Caps Only Prayer

March 16, 2009 by Big Tony · 2 Comments 

jose theodore 300x205 Top Notch Theodore is Caps Only Prayer

Monday night the Washington Capitals were defeated 5-1 by the Atlanta Thrashers who, although are much improved from earlier in the season and won their sixth in a row, are way out of playoff contention. There is no doubt the Capitals have a lineup that can make a lot of noise in the playoffs with incredible talents Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green. They are fantastic in 5-on-5 play, absolutely dominating on the power play, and have ok penalty killing that is made to look much better because of how good the power play is. Donald Brashear gives them size and toughness which added to the rest of the equation would seem to put them in great position to make a run at the Stanley Cup… and then there’s goaltending. Jose Theodore’s numbers do not appear to be all that bad (GAA 2.81 and .902 save percentage) but he seems to give up goals in spurts and cannot manage to make the big saves consistently enough. He also has a tendency to give up some soft goals which the forces the offensive talent of the Caps to bail him out. Once their first playoff series starts the Capitals cannot afford to have Theodore go through stretches where he doesn’t make big saves, gives up soft goals, and yields goals in spurts. When those things happen it spells disaster for any team and an early exit from the playoffs no matter who they play. The bottom line is this; if Theodore can clean up his game just a bit the Capitals are a legitimate threat to not just come out of the east but to win the Stanley Cup. IF Theodore does not then the guys in front of him will be forced to carry too heavy a load and the Capitals immense talent will be wasted because of bad goaltending.

The critics have ridden Theodore all year long because of his streaky play. If Theodore can step up when it counts then all will be forgiven, but if not then the Capitals and all of their talent will be eliminated early and Theodore will more than likely be the one who gets the brunt of the punishment.

Pittsburgh’s Perfect Ten

March 9, 2009 by Big Tony · Leave a Comment 

sergei gonchar 191x300 Pittsburgh’s Perfect Ten

The Pittsburgh Penguins have won six in a row, eight of the last nine and when five-for-five in their most recent road trip yielding them ten points out of a possible ten. Since hiring Bylsma, Pittsburgh is 8-1-1 with an increase in the level of scoring, a rise in offensive zone pressure and spectacular goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury. Not only did the road trip go very well for the Penguins but in those five games, four of the teams are either in a playoff spot or are tied in points with a team who is. The addition of Chris Kunitz has been priceless thus far as he has netted three goals in four games and five points overall. Kunitz gives them a presence in front of the net they missed dearly with the loss of Ryan Malone. Along with Kunitz was the acquisition of Billy Guerin who has provided invaluable experience and a right-handed forward for a power play that has improved with every game since the return of Sergei Gonchar. Pittsburgh’s power play scoring has not exactly been stellar, but the amount of opportunities they are creating is more than they have in months. The amount of movement for those with and without the puck has increased which is a substantial change from recent months and will only lead to more scoring which is key to the Penguin’s continued success.

As great as the last ten games have gone for Pittsburgh they have needed to use every point gained to reach a playoff position. Right now they stand in eighth with 76 points tied with Florida and New York ahead of them and are only one point behind fifth place Montreal. However, Carolina and Buffalo are breathing down their necks and even a minor slip up can spoil this ten game party. Thus far the trades have been great, the coaching move is paying dividends and Fleury has elevated his game. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh they cannot celebrate their recent success too much because they almost have to go 8-1-1 in their NEXT ten in order to ensure themselves a playoff spot. The Penguins have certainly proven that this new look team can make a lot of noise in the NHL’s second season; but for now… they just have to get there.

Role Players are Golden Commodities

February 12, 2009 by Big Tony · 2 Comments 

In all sports there is always talk about the superstars and what they bring to teams. A lot of fans—teams for that matter—expect superstars to be super heroes. Like all sports people see superstars on a team and assess their team’s chances based on—essentially—the big names alone. Now that the NHL season has hit February a lot of teams who were successful last year are learning—if they didn’t know already—how much impact a role player can have on a team’s success or lack thereof. Two great examples of that are the Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens.

ryan malone celebrates 300x205 Role Players are Golden Commodities

Granted, the Penguins lost Marian Hossa in the offseason but even before him the Penguins were a pretty good team; but along with Hossa they lost a number of role players and now they find themselves struggling just to get into the playoffs. Pittsburgh is really missing the toughness of Georges Laraque but also his ability to handle the puck down low in the offensive zone which really helps protect leads, something the Penguins have really struggled to do. Another thing the Penguins have not had a lot of are “garbage” goals in front of the net because nobody is willing to stand in front of the net to take that punishment the way Ryan Malone did. A strong presence in front of the net for any team is invaluable and it was almost poetic for Ryan Malone to score one of those “garbage” goals against the Penguins in Tampa’s 4-3 loss at Pittsburgh last week. Likewise, Jarkko Ruutu’s ability to not only draw penalties but frustrate the other team getting them to focus on things other than winning the game was priceless. Pittsburgh has a pretty good chance of making the playoffs with the team they have assembled but they would be in better shape with at least those three guys back in all likelihood.

mark streit 213x300 Role Players are Golden Commodities

The free-falling Montreal Canadiens role player issues focus mainly on losing Mark Streit to the Islanders. With Streit the Canadiens had an incredible power play that made teams who took penalties against them pay dearly and pay often. In the offseason the Canadiens lost Streit and now their power play is one of the worst in the league. The advantage of the power play is obvious but it is an even bigger deal when a team thrives on it because when its performance goes down the team is less likely to be successful. Since their power play is no longer lethal, the Canadiens needed other guys to accelerate their respective games to be successful and for most of the season they got that. Robert Lang became the team’s leading scorer providing them with more than they could have possibly hoped for from him. Along with Lang’s play Carey Price’s game had really improved and that allowed Montreal to stay afloat. But now Robert Lang is out for the season, Price has been struggling with his confidence and Kovalev’s play has been below average all year. As a result of these recent events the Canadiens are in a free-fall and coming dangerously close to missing the playoffs. Now, both Pittsburgh and Montreal know the value of role players more than ever before.

Flyers Soaring in Philly

December 20, 2008 by Big Tony · Leave a Comment 

flyers 223x300 Flyers Soaring in PhillyEverything this is clicking right now in Philadelphia as the Flyers have won 7 of 9 including a 7-1 waxing of the formerly white hot Washington Capitals Saturday afternoon. A great part of their success has been impeccable special teams play; over the last nine games the Flyers are 16 of 40 on the power play (an unbelievable 40%) and have killed 34 of their opponents’ last 44 power play chance (an equally impressive 77.3%). They Flyers are also showing they can win tough one-goal-games battling to the last minute as well as being able to protect a leads by turning games into blow-outs. Goaltending has been a bit inconsistent so if you’re looking for a chink in this team’s armor that is where to look. Overall this is a complete team that looks like they can make a lot of noise come playoff time. Philadelphia has great size at all five positions on the ice which is important come playoff time to not only wear down the other team but to be able to stand tough against a team trying to return the favor. Clearly this team can score as they have nine players in double-digits in points and six with double-digit goal totals. Special teams numbers mean more now in the playoffs with the rule changes than ever before so in yet another category advantage Flyers. What can put Philly over the top is not only last year’s playoff experience but this time they have Simon Gagne healthy and will in all likely hood have Kimmo Timonen for the duration of their playoff quest. Barring a disaster it may be about time the powers that be learn there are two “L”s at the end of Hartnell and that Timonen is spelled with only one “M” if you get my drift.

Hurricanes and Laviolette Part Ways

December 3, 2008 by Big Tony · Leave a Comment 

peter laviolette Hurricanes and Laviolette Part WaysESPN.com is reporting that the Carolina Hurricanes have fired Head Coach Peter Laviolette just three seasons after leading the Hurricanes to the franchise’s only Stanley Cup title. Although Laviolette led the team to the highest level possible they have missed the playoffs each of the last two years. Carolina currently stands second place in the weak Southeast division only three points behind Washington but have given up 10 more goals than they have scored thus far this season. The team’s power play has struggled mightily scoring only 12.9% of the time and have won only four of their last 10 games and once in their last five. In a strange turn of events Laviolette has apparently been replaced by Paul Maurice who Laviolette actually replaced when he was named head coach five years ago. As it stands now Carolina would be in the playoffs sitting in the 8th spot just one point ahead of Buffalo but the team clearly needs to turn a the corner. What this will mean for Carolina long-term is yet to be seen but Maurice will be tested right away as the Hurricanes welcome the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday night. Carolina has plenty of talent in Ray Whitney, Rod Brind’Amour (although he’s aging), Eric Staal, and a reliable goaltender in Cam Ward; but now that talent needs to produce wins.

Kings Must Battle Harder to be Successful

December 2, 2008 by Big Tony · Leave a Comment 

la kings 300x221 Kings Must Battle Harder to be SuccessfulThe Los Angeles Kings seemingly have a very bright future of which they have shown flashes of this year. They have a lot of young, promising talent but Monday night they proved why their future is bright and not their present. The Toronto Maple Leafs came to Staples Center and at first the Kings were not very welcoming hosts as Alexander Frolov scored the game’s first goal only 57 seconds into the opening period. After the initial shock the Leafs settled down and the game turned into a virtual stand-still for the rest of the first and all of the second periods. Things looked good for L.A. with strong goaltending from Jason LaBarbera they successfully protected a one goal lead for almost two full periods. And although it would probably take more than one goal to put the Leafs away the Kings had created a number of chances it was only a matter of time before the dam broke….Right? Unfortunately it was not meant to be as the Kings surrendered 2 power play (PP) goals within 1:21 of each other both power play goals. But it was not overwhelming skill from the Leafs that beat L.A. it was the Kings being “out hustled.” No matter the skill level or strategy of two clubs it all goes by the wayside when it comes to chasing loose pucks. Monday night the Kings were a step behind most loose pucks or simply gave up on a play too early. Toronto drew two penalties as a result and that is what led to the Leafs PP goals in the third period and ultimately what cost L.A. the game. Winning the battle to loose pucks will win the Kings games and if they do that sooner rather than later they will become a winning team earlier than expected.

Penguins Not as Good as it Seems

November 29, 2008 by Big Tony · 1 Comment 

pittsburgh penguins logo 300x281 Penguins Not as Good as it SeemsThe Pittsburgh Penguins are off to a very good start on paper. Stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are at or near the top of the scoring list and they are in good shape in the standings. However, their 4-1 win against New Jersey Saturday night was a performance that has become a rarity for the Penguins this year. Many times they have had to come from behind to win or have built big leads and struggled to hold on to them if they were able to hold on at all. Also, the Power Play has not been as good to them this year as in the past, in fact it has been very average overall thus far. The power play has resulted in one too many short-handed goals and their five-on-five defense has failed them on many occasions which is part of the reason they have such a hard time keeping big leads. The return of Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar will no doubt improve the defense as well as the power play when Gonchar fulfills his role at the point which has been lacking to date. However, with both men returning from a serious injury there is no guarantee they will be able to play at a high level right away if at all this season. Bottom line, if the Penguins want to return to the finals and ultimately win the Stanley Cup they will have to play more consistently on the power play and defensively 5-on-5, otherwise it will be a long off-season of “what ifs” in Pittsburgh.